Gayle Lynds: Yes, magic still happens at Christmas, and here’s how I know....
Some time ago I was publishing regularly but still making little money. The year of this story, I was on deadline throughout December, working long hours, from early morning until midnight. That wasn’t unusual. It seemed that year after year I’d had to work through the holidays. I always met my deadlines. I was the primary support of my family.
I’d grown up poor in Iowa, and every Christmas had been a crisis. Would my father give my mother money to buy gifts? More important — would he give her money to buy a Christmas tree? He’d been hungry during the Depression, and what little money there was, was to be held on to, not spent. The sight of an outdoor tree inside the four walls of a house didn’t capture his imagination. The fresh piney scent didn’t charm him. From his viewpoint, the popcorn strings, yarn ornaments, and school art projects decorating the tree should’ve been put to better use elsewhere.
So as an adult, living in Santa Barbara, California, I was grateful I could take care of my family, but at the same time I felt terribly guilty I wasn’t providing the kind of memorable Christmases I’d dreamed of for them.
The Christmas Eve this happened, we had two teenagers in high school and two young adults grown and gone. Through the closed door of my office, I could hear the younger two laughing and talking, and their friends arriving to visit then leaving. When I finally poked my head out, I smelled wet wool and pizza. The box of family tree ornaments was waiting by the staircase. My son and daughter were looking at it, too.
“It’s Christmas Eve,” my son reminded me. “Aren’t we going to have a tree?”
Yes, the crisis of the tree. I’d been delaying because I’d spent my allotted budget on gifts for them, and six-foot trees were a pricey $100. Then I thought of my father, who by then had died. He’d never seen any reason for a Christmas tree. But looking at their expectant faces, I knew they saw a reason. And truthfully, I did, too. I wanted a tree.
I got my purse. I had $20 left. I handed the bill to my son. “Do your best.”
|In my Santa Barbara office|
I didn’t expect much. After all, tomorrow was Christmas. Most of the tree lots would be empty. We’d be lucky to get something with a stump and a top. Three feet tall at best, with broken branches. I cheered myself up with the thought of how wonderful it would smell, and that small trees let you crowd the decorations.
I returned to my office, thinking kind thoughts about my father and wondering whether I was getting a little tight-fisted at the wrong moments myself.
The first inkling the kids were back was a pounding on the outside door downstairs. I ran out of my office. There they stood, balancing a giant seven-foot tree. It was gorgeous, and they carried it in, the glorious aroma wrapping me in a cloud of Christmas cheer. Oh, it was beautiful — a Douglas fir with a hint of blue in the needles and so fresh a thin branch curled around my wrist without breaking.
While we put on Christmas music and decorated, they described arriving at the neighborhood lot just as it was closing. There’d been three trees left. The owner had been offered an unexpected shipment in the morning, and since his sales had been good, he’d taken all of the trees. Now he was quitting, and they could have whichever one they wanted for the biggest bill they had on them.
“The best $20 we ever spent,” my daughter assured me, beaming.
There’s something about a Christmas tree that stands in front of a window, the twinkling lights reflected in the glass. There’s joy and ritual and a promise of Christmases to come. This is one of the reasons we adults work to support our families, whether it’s by writing novels or fixing plumbing or farming the land. We do it for these moments, to be together now and to send them off into the future tomorrow. That’s magic.
With this tale I begin the next series of Rogue Women posts about the holidays, our lives, and our books. May you and yours have a season full of peace and joy.
Do you have any favorite family holiday stories? Please share!